What makes the Mediterranean diet so healthful?The "Mediterranean diet" is one of the stars of nutrition. It partly explains why the Mediterranean countries have some of the lowest rates of heart disease and cancer in Europe. However, these 16 countries all have different cuisines and cultures. What makes their food so healthy is still a matter of research, but some facts are now established.
Olive oil, cooking mediumThe Mediterranean landscape, sun, sea and culinary history foster a diet rich in fresh fruit and vegetables, herbs, nuts, fish, garlic and red wine. Olive oil, rich in monounsaturated fat, is the main cooking medium. The locals eat less dairy, red meat, poultry and eggs than their north European counterparts do.Broadly, the food is low in saturated fat and is rich in heart-healthy fruit, vegetables, herbs and nuts, antioxidants and dietary fibre. A typical meal includes a nut-laden salad tossed with olive oil, red wine, lightly cooked fish, cereals, vegetables, garlic and fresh fruit.Fat is a big part of the diet although most of it is olive oil. As in the rest of the world, obesity is a rising problem in the Mediterranean countries. The high level of fat may be the one negative in the diet. Nevertheless, the saturated fat levels are among the lowest in the world.The Mediterranean diet also highlights the drawbacks of the Indian diet. Most Indians eat overcooked foods, polished rice, too small portions of fresh vegetables and fruit, too little fish, excess salt, fried snacks and refined sugar. Ghee, butter, vanaspati, palm oil, coconut oil, mustard oil, sesame oil and peanut oil are inferior to sunflower oil, but are more popular anyway. Legumes and lentils are the redeeming features.We can all eat a few more servings of the inexpensive in-season fresh fruit, herbs and leafy vegetables, and cook with the right oil. We can eat more legumes, lentils and toasted nuts, eat less meat, skip egg yolks, and add salt only at the table. Polished rice should give way to parboiled rice. Chappatis and idlis should replace fried tiffins.Making the Indian diet as healthful as the Mediterranean one is not easy. Many kinds of fruit are expensive in India, and cooking habits are hard to overturn. But look at it this way: the diet of a billion people has no business being the killer it is now.